When myself and my partner are both women, we are inherently breaking from heteronormativity just by the fact that we are both women.
Arguing that butch/femme reproduces compulsory heterosexual gender roles assumes that heterosexual gender roles ARE the source, and the norm, from whence butch/femme came. What if all of these gender roles are pulling from a different force – say, some sort of universal life-force, uniquely expressed in a wide variety of ways?
Sometimes butch/femme roles ARE a reproduction of heterosexuality, and that is where trouble comes into my paradise. If only they never were. That is absolutely one of the reasons why it was extremely difficult for me to come to a butch identity – because I’d grown up believing that gender roles were confining, and limiting. But they don’t have to be. I’m working on the details of that argument, but – for now – it’s similar to how a poetic form can actually liberate a poem, or an idea, rather than limit the expression of it.
I don’t like the argument that we should be “beyond roles” or beyond definition. Defining ourselves gives us power, and language, to articulate who we are. The problems arise when we are confined to the definitions, when we can no longer re-make or re-claim the words to accurately describe ourselves, or when we grow and move and change and are holding on to something that is no longer true. Categories should never be so rigid that there is not room to manouver inside of them.
Claiming a particular label or gender identity or expression also situates me within a particular history. There is a heritage of women who refused to be confined to femininity, many of them butches in the queer community. And I come from them. They are my heritage, I am part of that lineage, I want to claim and celebrate and align myself with what they did, because I am so fucken lucky to be sitting in a corporate office in midtown Manhattan, with my boycut #4 and my polo shirt, black boy slacks and loafers, Hanes briefs and a pocketwatch, wearing Old Spice and American Crew pomade, and my coworkers don’t care. I claim that heritage by claiming my identity to be butch. I stand on their shoulders. I am not alone here.
Gender, for me, is an expression of my sense of self as played onto my body, but it is also a sex toy. It is a way that I play and have fun and enhance the friction and traction between myself and my lover. It’s about contrast, holding myself up against someone else to see where we overlap, where we divide, where we collide.